It’s not often discussed but many speech pathologists suffer from anxiety. In fact, I believe that there is a majority of speech pathologists who are anxious at lot of the time. Why do I say that? I’ve found that many of us cover it well. We try to take care of ourselves so that we do not suffer acute symptoms. But there is much silent suffering among SLPs.
Whether it’s nerves about certain therapy sessions and meeting the clients’ needs to anxiety about personal issues and employment, speech pathologists do experience stress. There are many ways to manage this but it’s best to look at some of those core building blocks of your life and make sure that you have a firm foundation from which to grow personally and professionally. Here are my top five tips for keeping your sanity and reducing your anxiety as a speech pathologist one.
- Get enough sleep. It’s very important that you are getting a good solid 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night. I believe that’s the only way to fully manage to control any anxious thoughts. If you are living on 4-5 hours of sleep, it’s just not enough to support your own cognition. Elizabeth Gilbert has talked about how our brain is like a supercomputer on the head of an animal. She said how important it is to take care of our “animal” to fully maximize the capacity of our supercomputer. I read that how you feel today is the combination of the previous four nights of rest. So if you had a great night of sleep last night but several bad nights a few days ago, it does affect how you feel today. Getting quality good sleep is vital for your performance as a speech pathologist.
- Stop drinking. I know that many people relax with wine at the end of a long day or on the weekends they go out and drink several beers. But it’s important to remember that alcohol is a depressant for your nervous system. Also even a little bit over time will affect you sleep and how you feel in general. If you are drinking on the weekends and you are getting drunk frequently, it will have an effect on your cognition and emotions. See what happens if you stop drinking for 30 days and if you feel better. Note: it’s easy for me to say this because I’m not a drinker.
- Eat right. It’s very important to make sure that you’re giving your body complete nutrition so that you can perform at your best. Your brain really needs healthy fats to make sure that electrical impulses can move easily along the neurons. As speech pathologists we all studied the same things in Neuroanatomy and I think we all agree that the brain is a very special place. I believe that it needs a solid foundation of good nutrition to perform at its best. That means abandoning fast food. It’s so convenient to go through the drive-through, but fast food restaurants do not provide quality food. Those fats and oils enter your bloodstream and go into your brain. We want to make make sure that you’re getting the best nutrition, including fats and oils (including coconut oil, avocado oil, and olive oil). Fast food restaurants use oil that is high in omega 6, which is not the best oil for your brain. You want to be oils rich in omega three fatty acids. If you can’t abandon fast food, seek out better options that provide options that are healthy or not originally complex for your body (Panera and Noodles & Company would be better than McDonald’s). Try to prepare meals from scratch in your own kitchen and you’ll find you’re better feeling better and eating fewer calories.
- Exercise. Exercise is something that I really dislike. Maybe it’s something from my generation where physical education was used as a punishment (or at least it felt like it)! I am not interested in working out because it’s not fun for me but I’ve started to force myself to do it. I found one of those gyms where it cost 10 bucks a month to work out. And I’ve started working out twice a week. Yup, that’s all I been able to accomplish but I think it’s better than nothing. Low-cost gym options include Workout Anytime, Anytime Fitness Fitness 19, Planet Fitness etc. offer affordable plans for $10 or $15 a month with access to the gym 24 hours a day. You can do what I do, which is a 30 minute high-intensity walk (if I feel exceptionally ambitious and
might do 10 minutes on the stepper).
- Take a mental health day. Depending on your job, you might want to take a day off. If you can’t take a day, you should probably take a week or more. I’m serious. If you are in a position of constant anxiety and you work in a toxic work environment, it’s time for you to take a vacation and reflect on what it is you really need from an employer and a workplace. This year I switched teletherapy partially because I was experiencing stress and anxiety at my job. Making that change has turned out to be the best thing ever done because much better at managing my anxiety. In fact, I virtually never feel nervous anymore. If you can’t quit your job, taking a vacation is one of the best things you can do for yourself. A mental health day never hurt anybody and your students/patients/clients will survive not getting speech therapy for the duration of your time off.
Why do I think that speech pathologists experience anxiety more than other professionals? I would say that’s because the people who become speech pathologists were at the top of their class in school (high school, college, and grad school). Fun fact: to pass a course in graduate school, you must earn a B or better. While that sounds doable, everyone in the program is extremely talented and the pressure and the competition is intense. Don’t forget that even getting into graduate school is competitive, too. The anxiety and stress start early.
A lot of speech pathologists carry some of those residual nerves into their work after they finish their graduate programs. When we enter into a school environment, there are stressors there that make it challenging for speech pathologists to manage their anxiety. From inadequate working spaces to teachers and principals not entirely understanding what the speech pathologist does, means that SLPs experience the cumulative effect of small things that add up to a lot of stress. To be able to manage with therapy planning, students’ complex needs, IEP due dates and evaluation deadlines, you need to be functioning at your very best. I hope my suggestions help give you a starting point to reflect on the basics that you need to lock down in your life so you can work at your best.